Gauging Zack Greinke

In December the Arizona Diamondbacks landed arguably the biggest name on the free agent market, stealing him away from the division rival Dodgers.

Zack Greinke led the majors in ERA in 2015 with an historic 1.66 mark. It was the 8th-lowest ERA since the end of the Deadball Era, and his 0.84 WHIP was 3rd-lowest in that span.

But as with all stats, these numbers can deceive an untrained eye.

He was greatly helped by his 86.5 LOB%, which was 5th-highest in the last 100 years. Some pitchers are able to sustain high averages, but all signs point to last season’s figure being a fluke for Greinke – from 2008, his first full season as a starter, to 2014, he ranked only 37th in baseball in LOB%, stranding only 74.7% of runners.

Greinke also benefited from an abnormally low HR/FB rate. He was 4th in the majors with a 7.3% rate, which is almost two full percentage points below his career average.

And finally, his .229 BABIP against was second lowest in the majors. Again, some pitchers can consistently hold hitters to low BABIP numbers, but over Greinke’s career, batters have averaged a .298 BABIP.

All of this is not to say he didn’t have a great year. He walked batters at the lowest rate of his career, and despite getting only 4.08 runs of support per game, he managed to post a sparkling 19-3 record. In any year other than last, when Jake Arrieta was just as dominant, Greinke would’ve been a shoo-in for the NL Cy Young Award.

And Greinke’s improvements can be backed up by a few things.

He induced fewer line drives and generated weaker contact than he has in previous years, and also posted the second lowest FIP of his career.

And there’s more reason to believe Greinke’s numbers won’t decline too much. Although he’s now going to play his home games in one of the best hitter’s parks in the MLB, the Diamondbacks have an excellent defense that should help keep his BABIP relatively low.

But at age 32, it’s safe to say that Greinke has hit his peak, and that his massive six year, $206.5 million contract might not quite be worth it for the Diamondbacks. Yes, the going rate for elite starting pitchers is absurdly high, but the back half of his contract is going to be pretty cumbersome.

 

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